Crystal Mouthpieces

Mr. Friedland:

First, allow me to express my gratitude for your willingness to share your depth of experience with so many. I have learned a great deal from your many replies.

My question to you involves crystal mouthpieces. As background, I am an amateur and play on an about 50 year old Leblanc Symphony series clarinet. I simply enjoy my music and normally find my outlet in local community bands and orchestras.

Some years ago I saw a Mitchell Laurie crystal mouthpiece advertised and on a whim I ordered it. I was astonished at the quality of sound I was suddenly making with the Leblanc. My instrument blows very freely (i.e., almost no resistance). With the crystal I could make almost any sound I wanted, from ppp to fff, jazzy and with vibrato for a “Big Band” sound, or mellow and round for orchestra work. Many people commented they were amazed an “amateur” like me could get such sound out of “that old instrument”.

Later I chipped that mouthpiece. After kicking myself around the block, I ordered another one which, by the way, was very hard to get. The second Mitchell Laurie crystal was also a good mouth piece — but not quite as good as the first one.

I notice it is very rare to see a classical (symphony) clarinetist with a crystal.

What is your impression of the crystals? Are they worth pursuing? Are they limiting? Was my first mouthpiece a fluke or is it likely I could find another one as good as my first one with some effort?

I sincerely appreciate your viewpoint

On the use of crystal mouthpieces: I am living proof that they are finest kind of mouthpiece that you can get for the sound of the clarinet. There are many different levels at which I will illuminate my opinion but the first way is to tell you that I played one for many years and it was a great joy. Here is how it happened:

I was trying some crystal mouthpieces at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst … a long time ago. They all felt stuffy to me – every single one. Just as I was starting to put them away, my wife asked from the next room, “What was that – that you were playing on?” “Oh”, I said, “these are those crystals that Rosie asked me to try”. She said “Play the last one again”. I did, and she said “Keep it”. Wise words.

For the next 10 years I was always playing on this beautiful GG (South American) crystal mouthpiece, and not only did I get used to it, love it, etc., but it changed my way of playing. I could play softer, louder, more sustained than I ever could … and I was not a bad player. The public also noticed it. So it became my lifetime mouthpiece … until while during the intermission of a chamber concert in Montreal, a member of the second violin section of the orchestra I conducted came up to congratulate me. When he went to turn to leave, his raincoat caught my clarinet and chipped the mouthpiece.

“Oh, don’t worry” I said nonchalantly. ” I have another at home and will go get it”. I did and it indeed played the rest of the concert for me; however I was to never ever to regain that wonderful crystal mouthpiece I had – at least the sound I was getting, or thought I was getting.

Another reason to get one is that symphony players do play them. Gino Cioffi, principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, played one for many years, and he, my friend, had one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. I studied with him for a while and I believe that he was the most talented clarinetist … so much physical gift!!

My biggest influence was my teacher Rosario Mazzeo, perhaps the most thoughtful of all clarinet teachers and the great bass clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 or so years. And HE played a crystal on the bass clarinet. Yes, they do exist … all one has to do is to get a good facing, and one in tune, one that you can control, and you have a mouthpiece that changes less than any other in temperature changes … except of course if you break it … then you are … toast, as they say.

There are other materials, like wood, and like the inlays of the old Chedeville mouthpieces.

Players and embouchures are very flexible, you know. You have to have the reed waiting for that new mouthpiece that you are about to try. You have to happen to have a reed that will go with the mouthpiece. If you do, and the mouthpiece is correctly made, you will fall in love.

After my crystal mouthpiece fell from grace and broke, I was forever looking for another to replace it … sometimes I had the incredible chuzpah to change mouthpieces right before I went on stage, frequently with great results.

To finish, a great story, purportedly from Phil Farkas, former first horn with the Chicago Symphony and told to me by my best friend and hornist extraordinaire, Tom Kenny, formerly principal with Cleveland, Toscanini, and Paul Paray. Tom said,

“One time after Tchaikovsky 5th, a student came up to Farkas and said ‘That solo in the slow movement was the most gorgeous horn sound I have ever heard’.

Farkas immediately looked puzzled and started pacing back and forth. The student said, ‘Mr. Farkas, have I insulted you? The playing was truly great !!’

Farkas replied, ‘Thanks for the compliment; however I cannot remember which mouthpiece I played it on!!'”

How do you like that! Many players in orchestras are always trying new things and changing the way they play. But don’t YOU do that. We tell all our students to find one good one and stay with it. Do what we SAY, not what we do.

Good luck to you thank you for your interesting question, which brought back a thousand memories.

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